There’s a lot of discussion – online, at conferences, and in clinical care settings – about “evidence-based medicine.” There is some disagreement (no surprise) on the idea that any medicine is done-and-dusted on the science and evidence front, since science itself is a process of ongoing discovery. And even those discoveries can get called into question when further research reveals that the science behind a treatment, or a diagnostic norm, is a “nope, not really.” Dr. Vinay Prasad  and Dr. Adam Cifu  wrote the actual book on that, “Ending Medical Reversal: Improving Outcomes, Saving Lives .”
But medical reversal isn’t what I’m going to focus on in this post. Helping people, the ones called patients, figure out how to learn about medical evidence, how it’s created, and how to keep track of new ideas – including medical reversal – is what I’m up to this month. So, let’s dive in.
Where should an average human look for scientific information that matters to them about their own condition or disease, or a condition or disease affecting a loved one? Articles in scientific journals are not written for easy reading by non-scientists, but anyone can join in if they follow the process outlined in this post from December 2017 . (full disclosure: written by yours truly).
Using that approach, you can read scientific papers published on the National Library of Medicine’s PubMed , which is a treasure trove for anyone with a science-geek bent. Not all the articles in PubMed are available in full text, but you can get the abstract (the research question, essentially), and the DOI, the identifying number for the article. Getting the full text version of a journal article can be as simple as going to a medical library , if there’s one in your area. You can also see if your local library has access to the journal you’re interested in. There’s a handy tip sheet on the Journalist’s Resource site  that’s got all the ways we journalists can sherlock our way into getting the full text of an academic paper.
In service of doing the ongoing work of testing the science that gets published as emerging medical evidence, researchers around the world are refining and testing that published evidence. The Cochrane Library , part of the global medical evidence testing project the Cochrane Collaboration , has a wealth of information on how researchers test published results in processes called evidence synthesis  and meta-analysis , reporting on whether the “evidence” really is evidence for treatment or diagnosis. Cochrane also has a global consumer network , where anyone can learn about how evidence is created, and get involved in working to refine and assess the science behind it.
If you’re just looking for information on your particular condition or issue, to help you understand what you’re dealing with and get the details you need to work with your clinical team on making decisions, you can ask your team for recommendations on information sources that are written for average humans. There’s no comprehensive library of those resources, but they do exist. One example, for cancer patients, is the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Cancer.net  site, which is a deep dive, written in plain English, into the diagnosis, treatment, and outcome stats on all forms of cancer.
On the emerging-science front, the last twenty years has seen the emergence of the science of patient engagement, and patient experience . An example of an ongoing effort in that area is the Patient Experience Library , launched in 2016. Their reports and quarterly magazines are a great way to track that emerging science, and follow how it’s being embraced, or resisted, by the hard-science side of medical evidence and treatment discovery.
Science is a process, not an endpoint. Anyone who’s interested in furthering that process can participate – “citizen science”  is an emerging discipline that’s having an impact in many scientific fields, including medicine. Join in, and speed up discovery!
 Dr. Vinay Prasad
 Dr. Adam Cifu
 medical library
 Cochrane Library
 evidence synthesis
 citizen science
Casey Quinlan covered her share of medical stories as a TV news field producer, and used healthcare as part of her observational comedy set as a standup comic. So when she got a breast cancer diagnosis five days before Christmas in 2007, she used her research, communication, and comedy skills to navigate treatment, and wrote “Cancer for Christmas: Making the Most of a Daunting Gift” about managing medical care, and the importance of health literate self-advocacy. In addition to her ongoing work as a journalist, she’s a popular speaker and thought leader on healthcare system transformation from the ground up.